Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

The funny thing about riding the bus between towns; decorum, civility, and simple common decency – all these things are up for grabs.

There are myriad ways that people maneuver to occupy a seat (or two) on the bus. Some spread out all their belongings on the window seat and sit on the aisle seat, which allows them to block any option for sharing its use- very clever. Others pretend, and lie when asked, that the open seat next to them is “taken”. Others just physically occupy both seats and give you preemptive terrible nasty looks.

But the one I like the best is the “sleeping passenger” technique. This one requires serious skill.

Some passengers sprawl and curl horizontally on both seats and prop their belongings as pillow; some flop and lean diagonally into the next seat (typically accompanied by loud, obnoxious snoring); and some pretend to sleep or snooze while sitting upright, dropping an arm or hand onto the adjacent seat. This last one is the most susceptible and approachable to an incoming passenger needing to find an open seat in a crowded bus.

And here is the issue: As soon as you step on the bus, you have less than a second to quickly scan the bus and consider your strategy for finding an open seat. You have one shot as you step further into the bus, while the passengers behind you go through the same process- but you can’t track back, since most of the time the “open seat” you passed in search of a glorious double seat is typically taken by someone less ambitious.

So, target the upright pretend sleeper. This is your best option. The sprawler is not visible and this leads you to think that a two seat option is there waiting for you, and the lean-to boorish snorer is just too much to deal with.

So, when you step on the bus, look for the pretend sleeper, and let sleeping dogs lie!

Such is the curious nature of life on the bus.

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Travel Expense

I often wonder, where we would be – fiscally and socially, if we rely only on public transportation to get around; what is the cost, per mile, to travel from place to place? What is the experience?

Today, I had to go to Saratoga Springs for business, so I traveled 75 miles from New Paltz to Albany, then 35 miles from Albany to Saratoga Springs. On the reverse trip I traveled 25 miles from Saratoga Springs to Schenectady, then 18 miles from Schenectady to Albany.

It costs $25 to take the bus between New Paltz and Saratoga Springs; $1.50 between Saratoga Springs and Schenectady; and $2.00 between Schenectady and Albany.

The disparity in the travel expense is incredible, when you consider the cost per mile for the entire trip, compared to the cost per mile for each segment of the trip between towns. I traveled a total of 153 miles and paid $28.5 which yields an average cost of $0.18/mile, yet the 25 mile segment between Saratoga and Schenectady only cost $1.50 ($0.06/mile).

Perhaps the rationale for this is based on pure demographics, ridership, and the relative ease of connection between locations.

Once you understand the regional transit system, and you plan accordingly; the only question is the social experience of using public transportation; it is certainly not a financial one.

Here, intolerance I believe, is the essence of the problem.

A culture not accustomed to public transportation does not know how to manage sharing space and dealing with some discomfort; both of which are unavoidable on the bus. One is exposed to a forced interaction between strangers; rubbing shoulders, listening to loud music, even louder conversations, and this requires a degree of tolerance.

The real cost of travel is far less a financial consideration, then a social one; and we are simply not prepared to deal with circumstances that dictate we engage with others in a such a visceral way.

“It’s a Whole ‘Nother World; Behind the Walls”

Heading southbound from Albany to New Paltz on the 1:30 PM (I usually take 4:30 bus) after traveling for the past couple of days between towns upstate. I look at the empty seats and notice a bus driver, wearing full uniform, with decals and all, sitting on the third row, driver side; and I immediately ask myself, puzzled, “Why didn’t he sit on the first row, behind the driver, this is typically reserved for the driver to put his stuff?” He’s well settled in, bags and gear on the side seat; gives me a look that says, “I own this spot.”

“Ah; he picked the king seat”, I immediately tell myself, I get it!

It’s the same seat that my father would have me take, when I was a kid and had to travel alone overnight to Mexico City.

I have no scientific data, or statistical information, but I am convinced; the third row, driver’s side is the safest spot on the bus, just the right place to be — not too close to the front and not too far from the back of the bus.

I sit on the second row, settle in. Two guys, regular looking, climb aboard take the first two seats across the aisle; I think nothing of it — they don’t know each other, all very routine.

The bus takes off, a conversation starts up between the two guys; difficult to understand, a kind of shorthand, with phrases and references to places I don’t know, one of them is wearing black boots, khaki pants, a sweatshirt, and a winter hat, he’s got a bag of cookies in his hands; the other, sitting in front of me, I can’t see, except for his black sneakers and khaki pants — neither have carry on luggage with them.

The conversation becomes more understandable; they are talking about where they are headed naming recognizable places, both looking for a place to stay, affordable, under $70; comparing places where they have stayed before, experiences they’ve had, last time they were out!

I understand; they just got out of prison — now it makes sense; the earlier unknown references were places they been, you know, inside.

One looks at the other and says, “I could tell who you were, the moment is saw your boots”, “It’s all I had to choose from”, the other replies. “I did a little better, I got these nice sneakers, didn’t want to wear the boots”, the first one concludes.

He continues the conversation, now in as comfortable and open a tone as you would expect between two friends that haven’t seen each other for a long time, “I was traveling south, a few years ago, was thumbing it, a trucker picks me up in Georgia, he tells me he’ll take me but I have to help him drive his Cadillac to the next town where he lives!” Can you believe it”. “He just trusted me, no questions — I loved it down south, had a great time there”.

“I know, the second guy replies”.

“It’s a whole (and before he could finish) ‘nother world, behind the walls”; the second guy completes the sentence.

The guy with the black boots, and khaki pants — rolled up because they’re to long — opens up the bag of cookies, passes it around to everyone, looks at me and says, “Take some, I can’t eat them all”.

I take one, “Thank you”, I said. The thing is, I don’t like cookies! But; I figured, this was the prudent thing to do, this time.

It’s a whole ‘nother world; on the bus!